The Inimitable Alice!
The Inimitable Alice!
Provence used to be Italian. Many foods, customs, and sayings remain from that time – which ended by plebiscite in the 1860’s. One of the dearest, and most challenging to this Type A American, phrases is the Italian concept of “La dolce far niente”, — the sweetness of doing nothing.
I didn’t know how un-Provencal, how un-Italian, how un-far-niente I was until my first Thanksgiving in Cannes. I decided to do something very un-American on that day, –since I couldn’t find any cranberries anywhere. I went strolling all along La Croisette.
If you care about the Cannes Film Festival [developed to magnetize tourists during the rainy month of May], you’ll have read about all sorts of stars out upon La Croisette, — dressed and not-so-dressed, singly and together, by day and by night. And some, –like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward–, being robbed of their passports the year I was there . I used to picture the border-crossing guards as one headed into real Italy at La Bordighera, — laid-back uniformed men studying Paul’s and Joanne’s passports, passing those clever thieves right on through with languid waves of the hand.
That Thanksgiving Day, moving right along, Mediterranean to my left, towering palm trees casting flickering shade, the Pailais (Palace) of the film festival dead ahead, I heard a most unpleasant sound. I stopped and looked around. The sound stopped. I set out again. So did the sound. It was my rapid American feet on the broad wave-splashed sidewalk.
Nobody else walks fast. They have a verb I was never taught at St. Mary of the Woods College — “se flaner”. It means “to stroll.” We didn’t stroll in Detroit, let alone when I moved to Manhattan. But that’s another story.
Today, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, I am doing nothing. None of the tasks of the season, not even the tasks of the bill-basket. And certainly not the tasks of the marketplace.
I am languishing with a superb history of FDR as Politician Par Excellence — H. W. Brands’ stirring Traitor to His Class. Chapter-by-chapter, I am tugging us through World War II and learning more than ever before about strategies and justifications, –in Franklin, in Winston, in the brilliant George Marshall, in Harriman, and even in De Gaulle and Stalin. This is not anything I need to know, but I cannot get enough of it. Sheer luxury.
In between, –in my ever-present journal–, I am taking notes on the politics of yesteryear and the same field, if you can call it that, now. In 1942, FDR insisted upon raising all taxes, –especially upon the wealthy, especially those who were being enriched by the war–, “so that the sacrifices demanded by the war would be shared equitably.” Imagine.. But that’s another story.
On my Retreat Day, I am neither making nor taking phone calls. I am not initiating e-mails — although a few prove irresistible. I certainly am not going near Facebook.
I make two delightful meals, and eat them at a table rich in items Provencal, because I never get enough France, but you already know that.
At 3 p.m., I walk outside on my tiny patio with bare feet. I sit on a white ice-cream chair, tug slacks up over my knees, shove turtleneck sleeves halfway up my arms, and face the sun. I do all the sitting yoga and p.t. exercises that normally take up morning hours, there on that chair, in that hot sun.
The grass is silken and of an aggressive green suitable for Easter.
There isn’t a sound – not a car; not a voice; not a jet; not a team shouting on Lawrenceville playing fields so far away except auditorially; not the mew of a cat or a catbird; not the caw of imperious crows.
A small miracle is that I can sit here, gently exercising, while ‘my’ goldfinches nourish themselves daintily at the thistle seed. Not even they are murmuring. But these small, seasonally muted birds are usually so skittish. If I move fast, inside my study, behind my monitor, they, outside on their thistle socks, all explode away into the sheltering ash tree. Not today. We are all outdoors here together.
What’s wrong with this picture?
It’s not Easter.
It’s Christmas Day.
Ice caps and ice sheets are melting, and nobody in power gives a damn.
I spend many hours, when I’m not saving New Jersey at D&R Greenway Land Trust, signing urgent protests about the plight of the Planet. Not today.
Today I am remembering La Croisette, before I’d ever even heard of Catastrophic Climate Change, and it was supposed to be warm on Thanksgiving, on Christmas.
Today, Christmas 2016, I learn that I possess resources for this level of solitude. Worth knowing… One of the major lessons of my own Year in Provence.
Tonight, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on December 25, 2016, I am sunburnt — proof that I have practiced “la dolce far niente” this day.
Mosaic in Lobby of FDR/ER Library, revealing the lay of the land and our pilgrimage to excellence, last weekend and last May…
NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I have just returned from the Hudson River Valley, with two dear members of the Intrepids, Jeanette Hooban and Janet Black. We were on yet another Eleanor-and-Franklin-quest. Mountains taught us that they have nothing to do with with other weathers in nearby regions, nor even with sophisticated forecasts. Many a day was grim and grey, but mountains sustained us, and Springwood and the FDR/ER Library significantly expanded our knowledge of our two heroes.
Top Cottage, designed by FDR as getaway from his formidable mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt
Top Cottage won’t be open til May, so we Intrepids will plan another journey.
Here are images from a sunnier time in Hyde Park and Rhinebeck. Travel with us – having all the advantages, and none of the disadvantages of our getaway.
Perhaps we should credit the examples of Eleanor and Franklin, where courage and persistence are concerned, with the continuing fortitude of the Intrepids.
Despite mountain-birthed weather systems last weekend, Jeanette and Janet and I made repeated pilgrimages into sites vital to Eleanor and Franklin, without whom the world would not have been saved from the most dire Depression and all those wars.
Our hikes were curtailed, but our history-quest expanded and expanded.
Gastronomic treats abounded in nearby Rhinebeck.
And purple mountain majesties brooded impressively over all, often reflected in the shimmering broad Hudson River that sustained ‘my’ president. Janet rode home to Manhattan in a sleek train that hugged the river’s shore. Mountains seemed carved of slate, reflected in waters running orange and coral and tangerine and pink and mauve, right outside her window.
Those forested slopes crowning the landscapes reminded us that FDR was a legend and an enemy (depending upon party) in his time for creating crucial National Parks, –especially saving the Everglades; and attending to the needs of wild creatures, –particularly the American bald eagle and the trumpeter swan. Coming upon a clear-cut in the West, our president, my president, is quoted in Douglas Brinkley’s new book on FDR and land preservation, as hoping that the “s.o.b. who logged that is roasting in hell.” As a child, we never heard language like this. As a greatly disillusioned adult, I rejoice in his accuracy, even prophecy. For the clearcutting seems to go on unabated, nature’s foes seeming to say “the hell with carbon sinks.”
There wouldn’t be an Assateague without Franklin’s courage, nor my beloved Monomoy Wildlife Refuge off Chatham, Massachusetts. This president buttressed the legendary Rosalie Edge of Hawk Mountain Refuge, above nearby Hamburg, Pennsylvania, in stopping the most egregious raptor slaughter in our land.
I confess to having assumed that TR was the National Park President. Yes, but his relative, his successor, knew the essentiality of saving wild America, especially her coastlines.
So much that makes America America, we owe to Roosevelts.
In case you wonder, that’s why THIS preservationist keeps making pilgrimages to the Hudson River Valley.
And why she brought home Brinkley’s Rightful Heritage – Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America, to take its place ultimately alongside Brinkley’s The Wilderness Warrier — Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America.
NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I cherish and require New Jersey’s wild natural spaces. Frankly, my passion for NJ open space is right up there with my need of Cornwall’s and Brittany’s. It’s why I pour myself into preservation every week at D&R Greenway Land Trust. Although centered in Princeton, we save the land in seven counties, approaching the 20,000-acre mark.
Lovely Cedar Ridge, like all of our preserves, bel0ngs to the people, in the best American tradition. Wild creatures thrive here. Hunters have restored a stone wall of yesteryear. A majestic oak stand sentinel at the center of the trails. The ‘two-legged, the four-legged, the winged’, as the Lenni Lenape named them, are free in this multi-faceted setting just off Van Dyke Road beyond Hopewell, because it was preserved.
The box turtle reminds me of FDR’s Four Freedoms, so beautifully illustrated in four enormous canvases at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Never forget these freedoms.
Choose only to vote for people who increase:
FREEDOM FROM FEAR
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
FREEDOM FROM WANT
FREEDOM OF WORSHIP
Every once in awhile, I have to visit other states in quest of wild beauty, spectacular hikes, and always history. Don’t get me wrong, NJ has HISTORY in capital letters. I’ve read that 75% of the significant battles of our Revolution took place on NJ soil. And three significant early victories — the two battles of Trenton and the single one at Princeton. Our Founding Fathers traveled through our state on their way to forging liberty at Philadelphia. Words penned there could have cost every delegate his “life, fortune and sacred honor.” Two nearby New Jerseyans paid with their lives for Signing that sacred Declaration – Stockton and Hart.
General Washington examined the Delaware from Goat Hill, below Lambertville, before his significant Christmastime crossing. John McPhee claims that the shad of that sacred river sustained the troops at Valley Forge. And some also insist that rations of Jersey Ligntnin’ — applejack made particularly in our Pine Barrens– were issued to instill courage as needed.
The General and his bootless heroic men defended liberty at Monmouth, where extreme summer heat may have been our secret weapon. We would not have become the literal Land of Liberty without New Jersey.
For me, there’s a special, inexplicable connection between lighthouses and liberty:
Partly on account of the courageous and brilliant Adams of Massachusetts, we secured true freedom from the tyranny of George III. Never forget that John daringly defended those accused of the so-called Boston Massacre. Otherwise, he insisted, all the words spoken and penned in Philadelphia would have meant nothing.
Sometimes I have to return to his state for deep doses of history, heroism, and nature herself. Chatham Mass.was my summer home for at least a decade of summers. Glorious even in fog, Chatham seems to hold light by day and by night, filling me recently, as NJWILDBEAUTY readers know, with scenes seemingly unchanged since the 1970’s.
Chatham’s light has brought safety in storms for decades beyond counting. Let that light fill you, and and do whatever you can to increase the light of true liberty in our land.
In rustic Leeds Point (home of the Jersey Devil, also in the 1700’s) fishermen and clammers and crabbers remain free to ply their generational trade, moving silently along tidal creeks through wetlands. Many wetlands in that region have been preserved through the foresight of Forsythe – Edmund B., a politician far ahead of his time in realizing how important open space is to true liberty.
Two of my all-time heroes are Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his intrepid activist wife, Eleanor. Next week I’ll be in his ancestral home, Springwood, with two of The Intrepids. We’ll make pilgrimage to 1930’s murals, evoking rural ways and the Depression out of which FDR pulled us all, in the post office he dedicated in Rhinebeck.
Our first meal will be at the Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck, pre-Revolutionary haven and living museum. Their Tavern seems even now to echo with the sound of pewter tankards, banged on weathered tables, as Revolutionaries of New York insisted, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
My friends know, if I could return in any era, I’d choose Philadelphia in the 1770’s. I’d have to have been a man then, of course. We’d all be there – Tom and John and Ben and George and Richard Stockton and I hope Tom Paine, banging those tankards at the City Tavern by my beloved Delaware River.
From our thoughts and this cacophony would flow the liberty which sustains us today. Do not, for God’s sake, lose it!
These two never lost sight of what really matters in America.
NJWILDBEAUTY readers are accustomed, possibly too accustomed, to my being enervated and worse by lack of light. On the other hand, you also experience in your writer a certain ecstasy in the presence of light. Add to that the hint of time-travel and surprisingly satisfying food, and you have my all-time favorite diner. It doesn’t hurt that major historical shrines of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt await nearby.
It’s in Hyde Park (New York), where I travel on Roosevelt-quests, as much Eleanor, of course, as Franklin. And it’s a step back into my teen-age years, except we didn’t have anything nearly so exciting in Detroit!
Howard Johnson’s, it isn’t!
That was the closest I’d ever come to a diner in my Michigan life. First one I met was the Edison Diner in New Jersey in the 1980’s. And it was industrial strength…
Whimsical and retro, I’m sure you see why I make at least one pilgrimage per Hyde Park trip, to the Eveready! Breakfasts are hearty, hefty, also filled with light, even on downpour days– stoking us for continuance, whether to or from the Berkshires.
Even now, looking back on our October trip, this diner shimmers like a mirage.
The diner is right on Route 9, not far from FDR’s Springwood. Stay at the ’50’s motel, impeccably kept, to which one is warmly welcomed, The Roosevelt Inn. Make reservations by phone – the owner/hostess enjoys that. This is also on #9, a few blocks north of the diner, and near one of the town’s timeless churches, which plays a hymn at 6 p.m. — which may well honor the Angelus.
The highlight of that day was a Ranger-guided tour at Eleanor’s home, Val-Kill, tucked into woods, just far enough from Sara Roosevelt. The President loved going to Eleanor’s haven, for which he gave her the land; and for which he, an amateur architect, made clever plans.
Unbeknownst to me for decades, Franklin also had a Sara-haven on the Val-Kill property, Top Cottage. If you’re not delayed by rain, heading to Hyde Park, you can arrange to visit both in one day. Details may be found by checking the FDR Library site.
You used to have to pay for tickets and take bus to Val-Kill and then back and then another such arrangement for Top Cottage. We could drive into Val-Kill, pay among a cluster of very friendly Rangers. What I love about the Roosevelt guides, in Springwood and the Library, as well, is that they bring ‘my’ President and his lady back to life. Even last October, it was as though Eleanor would come ’round the corner at any moment, pick up her knitting, and settle down next to Fala’s basket.
(Fala was FDR’s Scottie — very famous in his day, and thoroughly bereaved, as was I as a child, by the death of that larger-than-life man, my only president, due to all those terms…)
The night before departure for Hyde Park, my travel-and-hiking friend, Deb Hill, and I watched the last ‘reel’ of the splendid PBS special on the Roosevelts of the Hudson River Valley, by our arch-film historian, Ken Burns.
This is a casserole I made in advance, had ready to sustain us travelers, upon our return.
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